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The “Coral Reef Squadron’ arrives

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MAI KHAO: Amidst great fanfare, a convoy of 15 flatbed trucks loaded with the remains of 10 decommissioned military aircraft arrived at the Tah Chat Chai checkpoint at 2 pm on Sunday after a three-day overland journey that began in Lopburi.

The convoy departed from Koke Krathiem Air Force Base in Lopburi with the partly disassembled aircraft on Friday.

The arrival of the four Douglas C-47 Dakota Skytrain military transport aircraft and six Sikorsky S-58T helicopters marks the penultimate leg of their final journey before they are sunk in the waters off Bang Tao.

On May 5, the aircraft skeletons are to be dropped into the sea about a kilometer off Bang Tao Beach to create an artificial reef in the hope that it will attract marine life and become a popular new dive site.

The aging aircraft, which have been dubbed the “Coral Reef Squadron”, are US-built and served in the Vietnam and Korean Wars, during which Thailand was used as a strategic base for operations during its Cold War fight against communism.

There to meet the convoy Tah Chat Chai checkpoint were Phuket Vice-Governor Worapoj Ratthasima, Tourism Authority of Thailand South Region 4 Office Director Suwalai Pinpradub, and representatives of the various groups and agencies that are working together on the project: The Royal Thai Air Force, the Phuket provincial government, the Thalang District Office, the For Sea Foundation, the Thai Dive Association (TDA), the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, and the Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organization, which provided 4 million baht for the project.

Once safely past the checkpoint, the convoy continued on to the Phuket Deep Sea Port at Ao Makham, where the aircraft will be cleaned, reassembled and otherwise prepared for their new role, which has been described as providing “apartments for fish”.

At a depth of about 15 to 20 meters, the aircraft will be arranged in a concentric pattern with two helicopters in the middle. These will be surrounded by an alternating circle of airplane and helicopter fuselages.

The wings of the aircraft were clipped at about mid-length and the rotors removed from the helicopters. All dangerous and/or toxic components of the mostly-aluminum remains were removed at the air base before being transported.

The entire arrangement, to cover about 2,500 square meters, will sit near an abandoned offshore tin-mining sledge.

TDA member Jens Hofacker of Aqua Divers in Nai Thon Beach told the Gazette that the sinking operation will be conducted with the help of both the Royal Thai Navy and National Parks Department.

The plan is to fix the aircraft to the seabed using huge concrete blocks. Upon completion, the entire site will be surrounded with a circular barrier of concrete blocks to prevent any migration of the structures across the sea floor, he said.

The TAT says that upon completion the project it is expected to attract about 200 divers daily and generate 140 million baht in income per year.

 

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